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SPECIAL REPORT: Fugitives Collecting Social Security Costs Taxpayers
It's a story you'll see only on ABC Newschannel 20. Dangerous fugitives are on the run and using taxpayer dollars while avoiding justice.
Law enforcement officers spend a lot of time trying to track down fugitives. But there is a program that provides a shortcut to people with an outstanding warrant for their arrest--to fugitives who are collecting your tax dollars illegally.
It's called the Fugitive Enforcement Program. The Social Security Administration matches people receiving benefits to fugitive lists from state and local law enforcement agencies. If there's a match, the SSA sends authorities the address of where a fugitive is collecting payments.
"When social security provides this information for us, it gives us the ability to cut to the chase," Sangamon County Undersheriff Jack Campbell said. "We can go right to where they're receiving benefits and if we don't find them there, somebody there knows them and a lot of times we can get information we need to locate the fugitive."
Deputy Craig Law said they pursue someone who's wanted the same way, whether the warrant is for drug charges, assault or minor traffic charges.
"They're wanted in criminal court before a judge and we're giving them benefits they don't deserve," Law said. "There's other people that need it."
Our ride-along led us to the apartment building of 46-year-old Tamara Smith, who went to jail on a warrant for resisting a police officer in Sangamon County.
When ABC Newschannel 20's Liz Foster told her it's against the law to receive benefits when you have a warrant, she said, "I didn't know I had a warrant for my arrest!"
Deputy Law told us, "She's been using the other address for a couple of years, yet receiving benefits at this address at least for all of 2012."
In 1996, Congress passed a law prohibiting social security payments to fugitives and parole violators.
Since then, more than 95,000 fugitives have been caught because they were illegaly collecting benefits, which typically range from $500-$1,000 a month.
In July 2008, auditors estimated by suspending payments to fugitives, Social Security saved more than $400 million in just four years. But in 2009, a class action lawsuit led to a settlement that says the SSA can't stop benefits right after finding a fugitive match, unless the person is wanted for fleeing justice.
Andrew Cannarsa, a representative for the Social Security Administration said, "If they're caught, then convicted, then the benefits stop. So since 2009, it has been harder to put a number on how much is recovered. But when we were stopping benefits right away, there were estimates of $30-50 million per year."
Undersheriff Campbell said the SSA is the only agency that provides this information in a proactive manner.